Y Pwyllgor Deisebau - Y Bumed Senedd

Petitions Committee - Fifth Senedd

01/12/2020

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Janet Finch-Saunders MS Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Leanne Wood MS
Michelle Brown MS
Neil McEvoy MS

Swyddogion y Senedd a oedd yn bresennol

Senedd Officials in Attendance

Graeme Francis Clerc
Clerk
Kayleigh Imperato Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Mared Llwyd Ail Glerc
Second Clerk

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Cyfarfu'r pwyllgor drwy gynhadledd fideo.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:11.

The committee met by video-conference.

The meeting began at 09:11. 

1. Cyflwyniad, ymddiheuriadau, dirprwyon a datganiadau o fuddiant
1. Introduction, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest

Good morning, bore da, and I welcome everyone to this virtual meeting of the Petitions Committee. In accordance with Standing Order 34.19, I have determined that the public are excluded from attending this committee in order to protect public health. The meeting is, however, broadcast live on Senedd.tv, and all participants will be joining by video-conference. The meeting is bilingual and translation is available, and a Record of Proceedings will also be published. Aside from the procedural adaptations relating to conducting business remotely, all other Standing Order requirements remain in place.

We do have apologies from Jack Sargeant, under item number 1.

2. Deisebau newydd
2. New petitions

So, item number 2: new petitions. Item 2.1, P-05-1029, 'The Welsh Government should introduce mandatory testing of all passengers arriving at Cardiff Airport'. This is page 47 in your pack. The petition was submitted by Lawrence Evans, having collected 184 signatures. And the petition reads: 

'Due to Coronavirus passengers are currently required to quarantine on arrival at Cardiff Airport from a list of European and International Countries.

This has led to a decline in passenger numbers utilizing the airport both outbound and inbound, a loss of revenue for airlines supporting our National airport, a loss of revenue for Cardiff Airport Ltd and a lack of confidence in the tourism industry due to passengers being required to quarantine on their return from identified countries.'

Now, there's been no response to the petition received from the Welsh Government. The Chair, me, wrote on 11 September, and this has been followed up by e-mail. A research brief has been provided, and the petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of this meeting, but has not done so. So, I therefore invite Members to discuss the petition and any actions you wish the committee to take. Neil. 

Thanks, Chair. In the one sense, I think it's quite incredible that the Government has not replied to this petition, asking for something that is eminently sensible, which is to test people coming into Cardiff Airport, and into Wales. When lockdown started, until the middle of October, 24,000 people came into Wales through Cardiff Airport. None of them were tested, and the quarantine arrangements are not mandatory. So, in effect, we've had all these lockdowns, we have all these different conditions put on our movements and liberties now, and, yet, people can just walk straight in through the airport and the Welsh Government is doing nothing about it. And they've not even got the decency to reply to this petition. So, I'm particularly unhappy and would support the committee in writing as strong a letter as possible to the Government, because I think that's all we can do at this point. 

Okay. The next petition, 2.2, P-05-1041, 'A clear policy and funding for hospitals and care homes for virtual visiting during times of lockdown'. This petition was submitted by Kate Perry, having collected 187 signatures, and the text reads:

'Sadly, were not alone being cut off from loved ones in hospital and care homes. My mum has alzheimers she isn't able to pick up a phone or use video chat to keep in touch. During the initial lockdown we didn't see what she looked like for 9 weeks, which was horrendous. Welsh Government
guidelines are not clear enough and not all settings have the funds for equipment. This has to change. Everywhere should have a clear plan and ability to keep families in touch.'

Now, a response was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 10 November. A research brief has been provided and the petitioner has provided further comment. How would you like to go forward? 

09:15

Can I make a suggestion that we get more information, Chair? This is an issue that I'm sure most Members will have received correspondence about and some of the cases are really harrowing. I think, especially in the run-up to Christmas, this is going to become an even more pertinent issue, but I'm not sure whether we've got the time to do something to be able to impact things by then. But we could write to Care Forum Wales to seek their views on the issues raised by the petition and they need to provide to us information as to the sufficiency of current guidance and support that's available to care homes, because care homes, we all know, are not flushed with money, then, so to speak, and anything over and above that they've got to do, in terms of providing the basics, then they will need Government support to do that. So, I think we should gather more information and consider this again at a future date. 

Okay. Item 2.3, 'To have the manufacture and production of sufficient PPE for Wales located in Wales Post Covid-19'. This petition was submitted by Teresa Mary Carberry, having collected 127 signatures. 

'This current Corona Crisis has highlighted insufficient access to necessary PPE for all those who require it, in whichever health or social care setting they find themselves. As a nation we need to become self sufficient and not having to rely upon companies overseas etc. This would also necessitate an appraisal of storage, replenishment and distribution of said items and provide employment to many. Mother to an ICU nurse, I live in daily fear for her safety. I will not be the only parent.'

Now, a response was received from the Minister for Health and Social Services on 4 November, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comment. How would you like to go forward? Michelle. 

I have a lot of sympathy with this petition. I think it's a very sensible petition. I think the experiences that we had, particularly at the beginning of the COVID crisis—the difficulties everyone had sourcing PPE—were very, very clear, and I think it makes sense to be self-sufficient. The petitioner seems to be satisfied with the action outlined by the Minister, so I think the petitioner should be congratulated for raising the petition, and we can close the petition, because the petitioner has got what they wanted.  

Okay. All Members agreed? Thank you. Thank you, Michelle. Item 2.4, P-05-1047, 'Let pubs and bars trade, cancel the curfew'. This petition was submitted by Adam Smith, having collected 750 signatures. This is how it reads: 

'Licensees of bars and pubs follow strict procedures in order to trade and to ensure that staff and patrons are kept safe at all times. With added socially distancing measures in place, licensees across the country have shown they were able to do this and still trade, keep their venues open and securing jobs.'

So, a response was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 30 October, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of this meeting, but has not done so. How would you like to go forward?

09:20

I think this petition has been somewhat superseded by events, hasn't it? The information taken by the committee that looked into this from UK Hospitality argued that the 10 o’clock curfew should be reviewed on the basis of evidence that socialising is happening in unregulated environments. Now, that could be something that becomes more of a problem with the new set of regulations. The Welsh Government's response is quite clear in terms of where they stand on this. I'm not sure where we can take this at this point in time, given the announcement that was made yesterday—that's what I'm struggling with now, Chair.

There doesn't seem to be any science behind these decisions. It's even worse now because there's no alcohol on sale at all from Friday onwards. So, people will be pushed into supermarkets to buy alcohol, where 20 per cent of all transmissions take place. A lot of sympathy for the sentiment of the petition, but I'm not sure where it takes us now, given where we are with the latest set of regulations.

Okay. In which case, are you wanting to close this petition? Because it's arguing about 10 o’clock curfews and things like that, whereas now, the situation has changed again.

You've got a 6 o’clock curfew, haven't you, which is even worse. 

I'd love to be able to say that we could do something in terms of supporting the industry, right, because it's obvious that the industry has taken a massive hit, and they were probably hoping to recoup some of their losses in the run up to Christmas, and now they're not able to. But there are other committees within the Senedd doing scrutiny work of business support packages and so on. So, given that that work is going on elsewhere, there's no point us duplicating that. I presume that the petitioner is aware of that work and will be able to keep an eye on it. But like other Members, I really just can't see where we can take this now.

It may have been better if there was a call to action in the petition as well, that we could latch on to something. But I'm not sure what more we can do with it at the moment.

Okay. So, I'm detecting that you wish for this particular petition to close and to thank the petitioners for bringing their concerns, and make the point that there will be ongoing work and scrutiny and challenge to the Government because, of course, we've had even stricter curfews put in place. Okay.

So, 2.5, P-05-1048, 'Allow older people to access outdoor sports facilities for physical and mental wellbeing'. This petition was submitted by Colin Edmunds, having collected 1,743 signatures, and it reads,

'Older members of society have often lost their partner and have established a circle of friends in their own particular club. This is particularly pertinent in golf clubs. The club maybe outside their lockdown area, sometimes by even a short distance. This year has been difficult for all but particularly so for this age group, with not only their physical health suffering but also having a severe effect on their mental health.'

A response was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 16 November. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of this meeting, but has not done so. So, I invite Members to discuss this and any action you wish, as a committee, to take.

Chair, again, the situation has moved on since this petition was submitted, and golf clubs are open now, but there's every chance that golf clubs and other sport facilities could close again in the future, should the numbers change and should the science direct the Government in that particular direction. It is absolutely correct to say that being able to socialise with other people, being able to physically exercise is good for mental well-being. We all understand that, and I think perhaps the Government could do more to enable those kinds of facilities to continue to function when they need to lockdown in other areas. But I think Members continually make those points in Senedd and in committees as well. Again, given things have moved on, this petition is slightly redundant now, but it's likely that the issues will crop up. And I'm sure that Members, all of us in this committee and outside of this committee, will continue to make the points to Government about the importance to mental well-being of these sorts of things being opened for everybody, not just the older age group, although I can see the particular issues with that group because often people are on their own.

09:25

Okay. Any other comments? In that case, we will thank the petitioner, and there will be no further action on this petition. Thank you.

P-05-1051, 'Allow Welsh junior athletes to train with the same covid regulations as equivalent English juniors'. This petition was submitted by Andrew Brown, having collected 219 signatures, and it reads:

'My sons will be playing basketball in this year's English national league which starts in November.

'English junior athletes are already playing practice matches in training but Welsh children can't even share a ball in training.

'This puts Welsh junior athletes at a huge disadvantage compared to England's.

'This is happening in all junior sports clubs inc netball, rugby and volleyball.

'Welsh Government must align our regulations with juniors of England to make it equal for the children.'

So, a response was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 16 November. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of the meeting but has not done so. How would you like to go forward?

Chair, it's clear that the Government's approach is fairly consistent. Sport Wales and the Welsh Sports Association have established a number of planning groups, which have provided an approach for a phased return. So, it's the governing bodies that provide their own guidance, and regulations in Wales do allow organised activities to continue, subject to those rules. So, in light of the current regulations, which do allow organised activities to take place, and of the fact that specific guidance for basketball and other sports is produced by their own governing bodies rather that the Welsh Government, I think we should thank the petitioner and close this petition, and take no further action.

I don't particularly agree with that, because I think what you have is so many inconsistencies across the board. I'd like to write to the governing bodies because, for example, in netball, in the rule of 30, coaches and referees are not taken into account; in football, with the rule of 30, coaches and referees are taken into account. Balls have to be sanitised, for example, every time they go out of play, but I've walked passed Cardiff castle several days running and people are playing basketball to win prizes and no sanitation whatsoever. This is a complete mismatch here and a lack of common sense, but a lack of uniformity. So, I think, with rules for football, rules for netball, rules for basketball, there should be some kind of consistency, and maybe we should look at England and follow what they're doing in this case.

Okay. So, we've had a proposal to close the petition, and then we have one Member that wants to write, again, on this issue. Any other comments from the committee?

Well, I'd just ask, if the committee is writing to ask for uniformity, then does that mean that we're saying that we don't think the local associations should make these decisions on the rules and the phased return? If you're going to decentralise the decision making, then you're inevitably going to have inconsistency, so I just want us to be clear as a committee what it is we're trying to achieve here. 

Hang on, I'll just bring in Michelle, who hasn't spoken yet. Michelle.

I think the Minister's slightly missed the point in the response. He's saying that the regulations do allow organised activities to continue in Wales, but the petitioner seems to be asking that the regulations and rules that apply to sports in Wales are consistent with those that apply in England, and certainly for places like north Wales, where there are easy ways to be playing sports across the border, it makes sense to have consistent rules. I think, maybe, the petition's really asking why have those separate rules. What's the justification behind it? Government's come up again with, 'The science is saying x, y and z,' and closing their ears. So, I would agree with Neil to write to the governing bodies, but I think the Minister needs to be asked what is the actual basis of this. Why are the rules so different in Wales from across the border, particularly for a relatively low-risk group?

09:30

Leanne's got a good point there—why are netball doing it differently to football? Let's ask netball. I think football would be much happier if they were able to follow the same rules as netball.

Okay, are Members happy if we write to the Minister and ascertain why there are these inconsistencies?

And Sport Wales as well, Chair, and football and netball.

Yes, okay. The next petition is 2.7, P-05-1053, 'Keep gyms open and consider them as important as shops should another national lockdown take place'. This petition was submitted by Michelle Adams, having collected 20,616 signatures, and the text reads:

'If the Welsh Government has to make another national lockdown, gyms should be considered as important as shops in order to protect the nation’s health. They are a much less risk to Covid transmission than restaurants and pubs.'

A response was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 16 November and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Leanne.

Well, given the number of signatures that are on this petition, we have to seek a debate on this, I think, Chair. We've already alluded to the issue of the importance of being able to play sport for mental well-being. I see we've got another petition on opening golf courses and access to sport and physical activities, as well as the petition that we discussed earlier on about older people's access. So, maybe, given the issues around Plenary time and lack of it, if we are going to seek Plenary debates for those other, similar sport-related/well-being petitions, we could ask for a debate on the whole issue, rather than specifically just about gyms.

But I think the point about it being critical to mental well-being is a very, very well-made one, and we should seek to ensure that that different approach to ensure that gyms can stay open in the event of future lockdowns, in as much as they possibly can be under safe conditions and all of those caveats, then I think we should support the petitioners in whatever way we can to get a wider airing for a discussion of this issue.

Do all Members agree with that—to go forward for debate? Neil.

I'd like to isolate gyms and have a debate on gyms alone, actually, in terms of being essential services. I think that's what the petitioner is talking about. This time around, they've been left alone, thankfully, to remain open, but I think we need a specific categorisation for gyms that is different to other well-being elements and other sports—

Yes, but the debate will have to be based on the basis of the petition. So, the proposal is for a debate to go ahead. Is that agreed?

We need a debate, yes, but I think gyms should be treated separately, really.

Well, that can come out. The point is whether we go forward for the debate.

09:35

Yes. Are all Members agreed? Thank you. 

Item 2.8, P-05-1063, 'Open golf courses as it plays an integral part to the improvement of both physical and mental health'. This petition was submitted by Sam Evans, having collected a total of 6,317 signatures. 

'It’s a known fact that both golf and physical activity for that matter improves physical and mental health! Golf is one of the few sports in which you can participate and still be safe by social distancing, and with the current focus on mental health at the moment I think taking away the only form of exercise some people get was not a wise decision.'

So, a response was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 16 November. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of this meeting but has not done so. How would you like to take this forward?

I'd like a wider consideration of the issues raised in this petition. They are very similar to the issues raised in the last petition. Gyms are for many people, but not for everyone. Golf provides the same physical activity and mental well-being wins as other forms of physical activity. I just think generally the point about these facilities contributing to mental well-being and preventing people from developing potentially serious mental health problems is a big debate we need to have. And it could even be extended to other forms of communal activities. I meet many people who sing in choirs who've been unable to carry on something that they feel very passionate about, and it does impact on people's mental well-being. So, I think the debate generally needs to be had about the impact of these restrictions on mental well-being, and if we can do what we can as a committee to persuade the Government to try to keep these facilities open, whatever they are, if they enable people to stay active and keep fit, then we should encourage them to stay open. Of course safety is the top priority, but mental safety is important, too. 

So, you're proposing this goes forward for debate as well. 

I think we need to be cautious about asking for too many debates. There was a committee meeting not long ago where we really did want a debate on a subject and the Business Committee turned it down. 

So, I agree with Leanne that we should be having a broader debate on physical activity, rather than splitting it into individual debates about individual petitions. I think it would be more efficient. And then, maybe if we could possibly ask for a slightly longer debate, because it's quite a broad subject, it would give everybody a chance to chip in on these different issues. So, I support Leanne's suggestion.  

So, we're going to write to the Business Committee, then, to see whether they would consider a wider debate—

—that incorporates the wishes of these two petitioners, but which obviously could, perhaps, be broadened. We'll put that request forward. 

Okay, the next petition is item 2.9, P-05-1057. At this point, I would wish to declare an interest, because the petition is 'Increase the number of people allowed to attend wedding receptions', on page 94 in your pack, and I will be attending our son's wedding before the end of the year. I just wanted to put that on record. 

This petition was submitted by Simon Clark, having collected 984 signatures. And they say—. You'll see as I read this out, as to the date,

'We have a wedding planned for the end of October, but currently cannot have a reception following with all of our guests. We could have a meal in a restaurant but not a "reception".'

Now, a response was received from the First Minister on 12 November. A research brief has been provided. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of the meeting but has not done so. How would you like to go forward? Neil.

09:40

First of all, congratulations, Chair, on your declaration of interest. 

Maybe we can wait for them to reply to us, the petitioner.

I mean, it's unlikely that the situation is going to change in the short term, and this particular couple have tied the knot by now, I presume, or postponed; I'm not sure, from the information that we've got. But yes, it would be useful to get their view. I can see why things are very difficult for people when these events are planned long in advance, and they've got to be completely changed in the light of different regulations that are changing all the time. So, it's very, very difficult for people who just want a bit of certainty. But the top priority as ever with these issues has to be safety, and that's what's driving the guidance and the advice here. And I can't see how that is going to change in the short term.

Okay. Thank you. Do all Members feel the same? Agreed with that? Okay. 

Item 2.10, P-05-1058, 'Prevent a second national lockdown in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Taylor Harris, having collected a total of 160 signatures:

'The Welsh Government is considering imposing a second national lockdown in Wales. This will be disastrous for people's livelihoods and well-being.'

A response was received from the First Minister on 16 November. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of this meeting but has not done so. I invite you to discuss this and any actions you wish us to take as a committee.

Chair, given where we are in the pandemic, it's very unlikely that the Government is going to agree to rule out any future lockdowns. The situation has changed quite a lot since this petition was introduced. I don't think that this is going to go anywhere now, so I would propose that we thank the petitioner, note the sentiments outlined in the petition, but agree to take no further action at this stage.

Okay. Do all Members agree? Yes. Okay.

P-05-1059, 'Classify Places of Worship as essential, to allow people to attend church during lockdowns'. This petition was submitted by Clyde Thomas, having collected a total of 3,591 signatures. It reads:

'Places of worship have been classified as non-essential by Welsh Government. This means that churches have been effectively classed as of similar importance to retail shops and are unable to hold services during "firebreak" or "lockdown". There is no evidence that churches have contributed to the spread of Covid-19. Churches have been one of the best examples of Covid-safe environments, and have wholeheartedly followed extensive, prohibitive guidelines to do their part for the nation.'

A response was received from the First Minister on 3 November, a research brief has been provided, and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Anyone?

I can't see where we can take this, Chair, given the Government will clearly say that they follow scientific advice and impact assessments. Places of worship are open now, and they have been open since the end of the firebreak, but if there do need to be further restrictions, if there do need to be future lockdowns, then it's difficult to see why places of worship should be granted special status over, say, gyms, which we've already talked about the importance of for mental well-being. There are issues in terms of mental well-being with this, of course, but I can't see how we can persuade the Government to change their position on this particular issue.

I've got a lot of sympathy for the petitioner, because I think there are things that could be done safely, even in lockdown, depending on numbers and depending on a number of factors such as airflow. But I think the issue is that it didn't get more than 5,000 signatures, so we're unable to put it forward for a debate. So, I'm not sure how much further we can take it, really, given the Government's—

09:45

Okay. So, is there a proposal there to close this petition? Yes—to close that petition and to thank them for bringing it forward.

P-05-1061, 'Give financial support to Pet Boarding businesses'. This petition was submitted by Ryan Lee, having collected 2,144 signatures:

'The latest grants made available are for those in lockdown areas or business development. Many Pet Boarding businesses outside lockdown areas have seen customer numbers fall to zero. The Business Development Grants can not be used to pay the monthly bills. Pet Boarding Businesses need financial support now to stop them going out of business. Hundreds of jobs and homes are at risk without adequate financial support.'

A response was received from the Minister for finance on 30 October and a research brief has been provided. The petitioner has provided further comments. Any comments and actions? Leanne.

I think they make a very good case, and we should request information from the finance Minister about their plans to support this industry. We can explain the difficulties that the industry's had in accessing support programmes up till now, and we could ask for this sector to be taken into consideration in the design of the next phase of the economic resilience fund or any other support programmes that will become available to businesses in the future. 

Okay. All Members agreed?

P-05-1066, 'Allow choristers and youth choirs to sing in Wales and young musicians to play in groups'. This petition was submitted by Phae Cole, having collected 861 signatures. It reads:

'At the start of lockdown singing was viewed as highly dangerous, however scientific studies are showing time and again that singing is no more dangerous than speaking when carried out in an orderly risk assessed fashion. Research shows that singing is a perfectly safe to engage in, especially in large, we'll ventilated spaces like cathedrals. Welsh Government still are not allowing children and young people to sing as they have said due to age and underlying health issues it is too dangerous.'

A response was received from the Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism on 16 November and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Michelle.

I have a lot of sympathy with this petition. I think it's particularly sad, really, that children aren't allowed to sing. They can sing on their own, but there's something wonderful about singing in a choir and singing with other people. The regulations, I think, have changed since this petition came in—am I right on that one? So, I think—

There is detailed guidance now on rehearsing and performing.

Yes. Given the fact that things have moved on, I think we should thank the petitioner. What else can we do with it? Because I can't see the Welsh Government amending the regulations to allow choirs to sing. Does anybody have any suggestions about what else we could do with this petition?

I think this is a similar situation to the previous one on places of worship, isn't it? Because we all recognise the benefits of people being able to gather together to worship or to sing. I know they're not comparable, but the absence of them has a similar impact, I would think. But the levels of risk associated with those activities are—. We're trying to balance everything out, and on balance, those activities are high risk, and so I can see why the guidance is as it is, that only small numbers of people can gather for these purposes. And as Michelle has said, given that, and given that the situation is changing depending on the numbers on a regular basis, it's very difficult to see where we can further take this. So, I would support what Michelle has said. 

09:50

A point to note, I suppose, is that since then, the regulations from 9 November do allow groups of up to 15 people to gather for indoor activities. It says it's considered a high-risk activity due to the potential—and I think the comments that have come in are that the limit of 15 is still restrictive. So, are Members happy with those proposals going forward? Yes. Thank you.

P-05-1049, 'Change the school summer holiday break!'. This petition was submitted by Rebecca Mercer, having collected 84 signatures. They

'would like to put forward a proposal to reduce the long 6 weeks down to 4 weeks, and add the extra 2 weeks to half terms. I think mainly October and May perhaps would be the most beneficial'.

That's what the petition reads. A response was received from the Minister for Education on 2 November. A research brief has also been provided, and the petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of this meeting but has not done so. How would you like to go forward? 

It's interesting that the Government was prepared to consider reviewing this issue prior to the pandemic, and that little work has been done on reviewing it since then. Professor Mick Waters has been asked to undertake an initial look at reimagining school in Wales, with part of its focus on how the traditional school year could be changed to better suit learning and teaching in the twenty-first century. So, it's not something that's completely outwith the Government's agenda, but we are at the moment in the middle of a pandemic and coming to the end of this Assembly term. So, given that and the fact that Ministers don't have a current formal role in setting the term dates, it's difficult to see what further action this committee can take now on this issue, Chair. 

3. Y wybodaeth ddiweddaraf am ddeisebau blaenorol
3. Updates to previous petitions

The next one is updates to previous petitions. P-05-954, 'Petition for a public inquiry by the Welsh Government into the historic child abuse on Caldey Island', page 138 in your pack. This petition was submitted by Kevin O'Connell and was first considered in July 2020, having collected 5,088 signatures. The background to this is that the committee considered the petition for the first time on 17 July. We agreed to write back to the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services to share the correspondence received by the committee, and we asked her to provide a further response. The committee also highlighted the indications received that the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse will not be considering abuse that took place on Caldey island specifically, and asked for further consideration to be given to the issue of a public inquiry in light of this. A response was received from the Deputy Minister on 5 November and further comments have been provided by a representative on behalf of the petitioner and Watkins & Gunn solicitors. How as a committee would you like to take this forward? Neil.

I think we need to note first of all that there may be pending legal action on this. I've massive sympathy for the petitioners. I think these kinds of things need to be debated in public and I would support a debate on this. Far too often, the concerns of children are dismissed in the system. This is a historic case, but my huge concern is that we just do not learn lessons. We always hear the phrase, 'Lessons will be learned, lessons will be learned', but the reality is that the lessons are not learned. I don't feel that children are any safer in care now than they were during these awful times. In terms of the timing of the debate, I think that is crucial, and I'd like to go back to the petitioner and maybe liaise with them and to see what they want in terms of their pending possible legal action as well. So, I certainly would not support closing this petition—it will need to stay open—but I'd like to liaise more closely with those who have actually put the petition. It has got over 5,000 signatures, so I personally support this going to a debate, at the right time.

09:55

Well, I wouldn't want to close this petition, because there are still many questions that need to be answered. I'm aware that there is parallel legal action potentially going on at the same time, so that might make a debate difficult. However, I've got real concerns about the accountability and the fact that there doesn't seem to be any accountability of Caldey abbey within the Roman Catholic Church. My understanding is that they've been asked questions by the media, which they've not been very forthcoming in terms of answers with. So, there does need to be a light shone on this, and I very much hope that the legal avenues will provide some additional light, but I'm not comfortable with closing the petition and closing down the hope that these survivors have that the Welsh Government—their democracy—can deliver some sort of justice.

Now, of course it's very difficult when the alleged perpetrators are deceased, and I can understand the Government's reluctance to pursue this, given that, and they say that it's unlikely that further information will come to light as the result of an inquiry, but it's really important that people's voices are given a chance to be aired, because there has been too much closing down, turning of a blind eye, failure to properly investigate allegations, in many, many examples that we can give in the past, and we are seriously failing people as a society every time that that happens. So, I would like to keep the petition on the table.

I accept that there is very little we can actually do now in terms of progressing this, but for the sake of the people who have alleged this abuse, and also for the sake of all future abuse survivors and victims, then I think we need to send a message that this is a seriously taken issue in Wales, and that even though the Government have the final say as to whether an inquiry can go ahead, there are other Members in the Senedd who want to press the Government to do the right thing.

I'd like to add. Along with Neil and Leanne, I'd like to keep this petition open. I think the Minister's reasons for not giving a public inquiry are a little bit disappointing, shall we say, because I don't see why—. I mean, okay, some of the witnesses are dead, but that doesn't stop you learning lessons from what happened. It doesn't stop you looking at what happened there to ascertain what went wrong, what lessons can be truly learnt for the future and actually implementing them in the future. So, I don't really think that the fact that some of the witnesses are now deceased is really a good reason for not holding an inquiry, and I think relying on what the police have been doing isn't a good reason for not holding a public inquiry either. I think we should put this petition on the back burner, see what happens with any legal action, and then revisit it once that's clear.

Okay. Is that the way you wish to go forward as a committee? Okay, thank you.

P-05-932, 'Education On Food Allergies In Schools & Mandatory EPI PEN Training'. This petition was submitted by Archie's Allergies and was first considered in January 2020, having collected 172 signatures. The committee have now considered this petition on four occasions. We last considered it on 29 September and agreed to write again back to the Minister for Education to ask whether the planned review of its approach to allergies has been impacted by the pandemic, and to the Welsh Local Government Association to ask for details of the work being taken forward on special diets in schools. Responses have been received and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward?

10:00

I don't think that there's much we can really do with this now, is there? We've received a lot of detailed responses about work plans delayed by the pandemic, and the fact that the Minister for Education has ruled out introducing new legal duties. I don't see what else we can do.

Okay. Are there any other comments from Members or do Members support the fact that this will now go forward for closure?

Okay. All right, thank you. P-05-985, 'Provide key-worker childcare equivalent to what was available prior to the Covid-19 pandemic'. This petition was submitted by Adam Calcutt and was first considered in July 2020, having collected 719 signatures.

So, again, we've considered this petition on four occasions. We last considered it on 15 September, agreeing to write back again to the Minister for Education to state that further consideration needs to be given to the availability of childcare for children of key workers during core working hours in any future lockdowns, and also to share the petitioner's views about how local authorities should approach future school closures or lockdowns. A response was received from the Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services on 5 November and the petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of today's meeting, but has not done so. How would you like to go forward?

Well, I think that the situation has moved on, and given that the education Minister is still insisting that schools and childcare facilities will remain open as a priority, and she continues to state that transmission rates in these settings remain low—I'm not entirely convinced on that, but that is the Government position—then additional facilities for key workers' children is not something that is going to be provided by the Government. They will want key workers' children to be educated in education settings and childcare settings in the same way that all other children are now. So, while we might, as a committee, have sympathy with the petitioner and agree that there should be over-and-above support for those people who are working on the front line, that's not how the Government are looking at this and so, I think we can thank the petitioner for bringing this to our attention and close the petition.

Okay. Next, we're going to consider two petitions together, and they are 3.4 and 3.5. Item 3.4 reads: P-05-1011, 'Virtual On-line teacher-led lessons to be provided for all school children'. This petition was submitted by Elfed Williams and was first considered in September 2020, having collected 2,772 signatures. And 3.5: P-05-1015, 'Categorise schools as critical infrastructure'. This petition was submitted by Christopher Hughes and was first considered in September 2020, having collected 484 signatures.

The committee considered both petitions for the first time on 29 September and we agreed to write back to the Minister for Education to outline the concerns raised and to ask what plans are now in place to ensure that there are resources available to support remote or online teaching of all pupils, should circumstances change during the autumn term due to national or local restrictions. The committee also asked how many pupils in Wales do not have access to the internet for the purposes of accessing online teaching at home, according to Government data. A response was received from the Minister on 5 November, and the petitioners were offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of the meeting today, but have not done so. How would you like to take this forward?

10:05

Chair, I think it's great that the Children, Young People and Education Committee are inquiring into this as part of their inquiry on the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people, so it's heartening to know that it's being considered. It's quite shocking that the Government doesn't know how many children are unable to access either the internet or a useful and suitable device. We've been talking about blended learning now since last spring. How can children engage in blended learning if they've got no access to the internet or device at home and the Government doesn't even know whether they do or not?

So, 10,000 devices might sound like a lot, but if there are 30,000 children without them, then it's not really touching the sides. This is an issue that I'm sure all of us, as members of the committee, will want to keep a close eye on. It's clearly impacting on the educational potential and chances of some of the poorest children in this country. We have a duty to ensure that they don't fall even further behind than they have already with the COVID situation, as well as general poverty, which holds children back as well.

So, I, personally, will be keeping a close eye on what the Children, Young People and Education Committee will be doing on this. I will encourage other Members to make sure that they question Ministers and put pressure to ensure that those devices and access to Wi-Fi are available to all, because children and young people could be going through long periods of isolation, and it's not acceptable for that to mean that they go for long periods without any educational input.

Yes, because we can't take it any further, but that doesn't mean that we're abandoning the issue. 

The next one is P-05—. Sorry, just to be clear on that, it was both petitions, yes?

Okay. P-05-1028, 'Relax the excessive restrictions to allow motor sport rallies to take place in Wales'. This petition was submitted by Jamie Edwards and was first considered in October 2020, having collected 3,889 signatures. The committee considered this for the first time on 13 October, agreeing to write back to the Deputy Minister to share the petitioner's further response, and also to seek clarification about whether officials have engaged directly with Motorsport UK and to ask for an update on the outcomes from the test events referred to in his correspondence. A response was received from the Deputy Minister on 16 November and the petitioner has provided further comments. How would you like to go forward?

Can we keep a watching brief on this petition until the new year and look at it again then, Chair?

Okay. P-05-937, 'STOP BOILING CRUSTACEANS ALIVE (lobsters, crabs, crayfish, prawns etc)'. The petition was submitted by Cardiff Animal Rights; it was first considered in February 2020, having collected 2,008 signatures. The committee has now considered the petition on three occasions. It last considered it on 13 October, and we agreed to write back to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to ask what consideration has been given by the Welsh Government to using its powers under section 1 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to extend the definition of 'animal' to include invertebrates on animal-welfare grounds and what evidence has been considered as part of this. A response was received from the Minister on 11 November and the petitioners have provided further comments. What actions would you like to take on this issue? Was that you, Neil?

It's difficult to—. Because we're coming up to the end of the Senedd term and there's this external evidence review that's been commissioned—it's not due to report until spring 2021, so that puts this committee in a difficult position, doesn't it, in terms of what action we can usefully bring about? I wonder if we can keep a watching brief on this until the end of term, and look at the petition again if the research is produced by then, whilst accepting that we're going to be limited in terms of the recommendations for action that we take possibly, given it will be coming back so late in the Assembly term. 

10:10

Okay. The next one is P-05-1026, 'Petition to ban the snaring of wildlife for use in the fur trade'. This petition was submitted by the National Anti Snaring Campaign, and was first considered in October 2020, having collected 2,481 signatures. The committee considered the petition for the first time on 13 October, agreeing to write back to the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs to ask for details of work done since the publication of the Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee's report on the use of snares in Wales, including in relation to the collection of data and annual reviews of the code of practice. A response was received from the Minister on 11 November, and the petitioners have provided further comments. How would you like to go forward? Neil.

I just think we could consider this petition's specific call for the snaring to be banned for use in the fur trade and write back to the Minister and ask whether or not the Government draws a distinction between the different reasons for using snares, and whether or not they would consider that stronger action should be appropriate really.

I agree with writing back to the Minister. I think it's an interesting question to ask, but it doesn't make any difference to me whether there are animals being snared for the fur trade or for food, or for anything else. I don't understand why snares are still able to be used in this country. It's cruel to the animal that's being caught. It's also cruel to other animals that are actually caught in the snare. I have to—. I suppose I should declare a personal interest here because my family had a cat, a long time ago, that was actually caught in a snare. It caused irreparable damage. It's a miracle the cat didn't die, and it would have been a very slow and painful death. I would like to ask the Minister why she isn't banning snaring anyway.

[Inaudible.]—voluntary guidance, part of that, our representations.

P-05-886, 'Stop the Red Route (A55/A494 corridor)'. This petition was submitted by Linda Scott and was first considered in June 2019, having collected 1,409 signatures. So, the committee has now considered this petition on six occasions. It last held an oral evidence session with the Minister for Economy, Transport and North Wales on 13 October. The petitioners have submitted further comments in response to the evidence provided by the Minister during that session. The committee has previously held evidence sessions with the petitioners, the North Wales Economic Ambition Board and Flintshire County Council, as well as considering detailed correspondence on the proposed scheme. So, how would you like to go forward? 

Okay, thank you. I'd like to produce a report on the evidence, the summary of the evidence, and any recommendations that the committee wishes to make. I think we've gone to a lot of effort to take evidence from various people, and I think it's only right that that should be compiled into a report. 

I support that, given that we've taken evidence and given that this is such a major issue that many people are engaged in. I've had correspondence from my own constituents on this issue, because it's something that they care about. I wonder then, in that report, if we can make recommendations that ask, first of all, for a pause in the project, because we all understand that the changes in terms of working and travelling from work to home have changed a lot as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I'm not convinced from the questions that we've previously posed that that's fully been taken into account. We can also recommend that the project is paused to give a chance for the other appropriate physical and smart works programmes on the existing highway network to be given a chance to take effect. And we can also recommend that the WelTAG appraisal is re-run, with the new fit-for-purpose, recently produced WelTAG. Also, I think we can request that the Senedd's environment committee looks at the whole issue, including costs, alternatives, the data that's used to justify the decisions to proceed with the red route, the issues around changing work patterns that I've already referred to regarding COVID-19, and of course the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. Is that something that is reasonable, do you think, Chair, to include in the report?

10:15

I would have said so, yes. Any other Members' views? Michelle.

I would add to that that we recommend that the Minister redoes his sums, because I really don't think he's costed this project properly.

There are a lot of works that he hasn't costed for. There are a lot of holes in his figures for this project. So, yes, there are quite a number of recommendations that we can make, aren't there?

Okay. All right. The next one is P-05-1009, 'Mandate Welsh Councils to apply a minimum 100% Council Tax surcharge on second homes'. This petition was submitted by Michael Murphy and was first considered in September 2020, having collected 1,026 signatures. The committee considered the petition for the first time on 29 September, and agreed to seek information about how many councils in Wales currently use the discretionary power to charge council tax premiums for second homes. Further information has been provided by the Research Service. The petitioner was offered the opportunity to provide further information in advance of the meeting but has not done so.

Chair, I understand where the petitioner is coming from, but I think that the ability for local authorities to have the discretion on this is quite important, because different local authorities are in different positions. In the light of that and the Minister's previous explanations, I think we can close this petition.

Yes, just very briefly. I fully support the sentiments. Our WNP group in Gwynedd has just put this forward, actually, to be done up there. But I think it is essential that we have decentralisation of decision making on matters like these, so I would agree with closing it.

Okay, thank you. And that brings us to the end of the petitions for today. So, the committee's next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, 15 December. A Plenary debate on petition P-05-1010, which is called, 'An independent inquiry into the 2020 flooding in Rhondda Cynon Taf so that lessons are learned', has been scheduled for Wednesday, 9 December. All that remains is for me to thank our committee members and our clerking team, and anybody watching this meeting. So, diolch, and see you next time. Thank you.

Daeth y cyfarfod i ben am 10:19.

The meeting ended at 10:19.